7 steps towards actionable justice indicators

In hindsight, the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are considered a success. Governments, civil society and international organisations worked hard to achieve 8 vital targets – from eradicating extreme poverty and hunger to combating diseases such as HIV and malaria. An ongoing diplomatic process is in place, as well as a broad civil discussion to formulate the goals and targets for the post-2015 MDGs.

There is one critical omission in the current MDGs – they do not put justice and rule of law (RoL) in the development equation. Various initiatives are on the way to bridge that gap. On 4 and 5 September I attended a meeting convened by the Open Society Justice Initiative in Istanbul which brought together justice sector leaders from Bangladesh, Nepal and Indonesia. People from national planning agencies and civil society organisations were discussing rule of law indicators and targets. What I found fascinating about this meeting was the level of concreteness. The participants were not talking about abstract goals. They were thinking about the rule of law in their countries. A vivid example is the ambition of the Indonesian justice sector leaders to provide legal identity documents to the people of Indonesia.

I took several take-aways from the deep discussions dedicated to developing Rule of law:

  1. Development of good indicators is just the first step. Realistic and time-bond targets are what needed lead to real change, i.e. by year XX reduce by YY% (year ZZ as a baseline) the number of children who do not possess a birth certificate.
  2. Indicators and targets can be refined and pursued only if there are solid baseline data. Such data should indicate the current state of the indicator but most importantly – it should provide deep understanding about the scope of the problem and its impact on vulnerable populations. It should also address the cause-and-effect questions. For instance, if we look at the legal identity issue – what are the factors that impede legal identity papers? Is it that marriages are not officially registered; children born out of the wedlock are not eligible to receive birth certificates; high cost of obtaining papers; low awareness; children born abroad on false documents?
  3. Targets should be realistic, given the time-frame and the change required to achieve them. Governments are very sensible about committing to something they might not be able to achieve. Also eradicating a problem completely is often impossible. Some contributing factors may be easier to tackle than others. Again, for targets to be realistic it is important to have solid baseline data and knowledge.
  4. Triangulation is key. Government statistics (of varying degrees of rigor and coverage) are available but must be taken with a pinch of salt. We often see data about number of courts, judges, docket clearance and disposition times. What we do not know, however, is whether and how such statistics respond to the existing needs for justice. Therefore it is important to triangulate with the needs and views of the people. Our experiences in studying the costa and quality of paths to justice demonstrate that people can tell good justice from bad justice.
  5. Indicators and targets should be manageable. The governments and suppliers of justice services should be able to see how the target can be impacted. If the target is contemplated as outside of governments’ reach they are unlikely to commit and take action. Yet again, the importance of good baseline data cannot be overstated.
  6. Not only should indicators and targets be manageable but they must also be linked to specific actors. Just saying that rights and entitlements are important is not enough. There must be concrete problem owners. For instance, “By year X, Y% of people will have secure land and tenure rights. Responsible is agency Y.” Only when specific people, organisations and institutions are tasked with achieving a goal will there be a shear commitment and leadership towards achieving results. High performers should be acknowledged and praised.
  7. There is a tension between the need for global RoL targets and national measures. The discussions in Istanbul showed how important the latter dimension is. Realistic and achievable targets should take into consideration the national specifics and strengths.

The last point leads to the difficult choice between global and national rule of law targets. Nevertheless, I believe the two are not dichotomous. As the Istanbul meeting demonstrated, the national indicators and targets can be powerful tools to respond to specific problems.These should be linked to broader and less context specific MDGs that press for more justice and rule of law. At HiiL Innovating Justice we are convinced that both national and supranational indicators and targets should start from the justice needs of the people and strive to provide basic justice care for all.